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Should Society Have a Responsibility Regarding the Octuplets?

By now of course everyone has heard the story of Nadya Suleman, the 33 year old Southern California woman who recently gave birth to the longest-living set of octuplets children in human history. The reporting of this story has been an interesting ride. Initially hailed as a "miracle," upon further examination, however, the tide of kindness flowing towards Ms. Suleman has waned. Instead, there now exists a range of emotions on this subject that include shock, outrage, disbelief and resentment. The reason for this turn of sentiments is the discovery that Ms. Suleman already has six other children (all under 8 years of age) at home, and that this home is actually the 1550 square foot residence she shares with her mother and these children. Unemployed, unmarried and mother to fourteen children, all under the age of eight. And, were that not enough, these last eight were evidently the result of a conscious decision on Ms. Suleman's part, it having been reported by ABC News that the children were conceived through IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).

Questions of morality and medical ethics also abound. In the United States, pursuant to the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, doctors should not implant more than two or three embryos at a time in a woman under the age of 35. These are evidently only guidelines, however, and we are left to speculate on how this actually occurred. Ms. Suleman is remaining silent on this subject and has thus far failed to identify the doctor responsible for the fertilization. The public hue and cry includes queries of potential for intervention by the Department of Children and Family Services (which generally will only happen if someone lodges a complaint of suspected child abuse or neglect, which so far to this author's knowledge hasn't happened) to fears that this family will become a drain on the taxpayers due to a concern over Ms. Suleman's ability (or lack thereof) to financially care for all these children and pay for the undoubtedly enormous medical bills associated with these births, estimated to be as much as $800,000.

So what now? In truth, the creation of a human being, whether seen as a divine event or not is indeed a matter of joy and wonderment and is a cause for celebration. In this particular case this joy is overshadowed by these perceptions and fears and concerns, some of which are well meant and others that are mean spirited; everyone, it seems, has an agenda. There are, however, lessons to be learned from this situation that transcend these visceral reactions, lessons of responsibility, maturity and self-denial to name but three. Jessica Garrison and Kimi Yoshino of The Los Angeles Times report Ms. Suleman as having no other goal in life but to "have more children to love." Sadly, it seems that Ms. Suleman's desires were allowed to run their course unchecked and absent of what many would consider reasonable restraints.

There are questions for the medical community as well. At what point is the medical community called to task for a situation such as this? In this particular case we are told of the guidelines in the U.S. medical community for multiple embryo implants, but these are only guidelines; the ultimate decision is still left to the mother, tempered only by the ethical considerations of the treating physicians. One is left to wonder if this is the best way to approach this situation. Perhaps intended recipients of IFV should be required by law to participate in psychological review and testing prior to the implantation. There will be those who claim that "Big Brother" is already too pervasive and that we are an "over-regulated" and over-controlled society, and in some respects this may be right. However, in a context such as this we are dealing with multiple lives and the consequences of an arguably ill-conceived notion (no pun intended) are so dramatic and far-reaching. At the very least, perhaps the coverage of this historic birth will help to encourage discussion and debate on these issues and will help define regulations that can minimize the use and sometimes abuse of the technology available to our society.

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William A. Feinberg 1928 - 2001

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